New Clause 11 - Assessment of mental health impact for leaseholders in dwellings with building safety risks

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 26th October 2021.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must carry out a review of the impact of building safety issues on leasehold tenants’ mental health.

(2) The review as set out in subsection (1) must be laid before each House of Parliament within six months of the day on which this Act is passed, and must consider the effect on leasehold tenants’ mental health arising from but not limited to—

(a) residing or being a leasehold tenant in a building which has had or currently has building safety issues;

(b) any financial pressures on leaseholders as a result of charges due to building safety work, conducted based on advice given by his department since 14 June 2017;

(c) supply of mortgage finance.

(3) The review shall include recommendations on any mental health support to be provided to leasehold tenants’ as a result of findings under subsection (2).”.—(Ruth Cadbury.)

This new clause would ensure the Government publish an assessment considering the impact of the building safety risks on leaseholders, and whether further specific mental health support is required.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Planning)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Dowd. The new clause seeks an assessment of the mental health impact for leaseholders in dwellings with building safety risks.

It may be normal in areas such as health, social care and justice to consider in legislation the mental health impact on victims, but it is unusual in matters of the built environment. I hope in my comments to address the impact that the crisis is having on the mental health of millions of people across the country. Any MP who has looked into their postbag will know the turmoil and trauma that the crisis has caused to leaseholders. As the hon. Member for St Albans said earlier, they are innocent parties—the only innocent parties—and they have had the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.

The new clause makes three aspects clear. First, there is the trauma caused to people by living in a building that is unsafe and that they fear could go up in flames. Then there is the trauma of the financial bills that so many leaseholders face, which can run into tens of thousands for many. Finally, there is the trauma caused by being trapped and unable to sell or remortgage a home. That is a toxic trio that we know is impacting people’s mental health. Survey after survey has confirmed the huge impact.

In a survey for Which?, a leaseholder called Georgie said:

“I don’t know of any leaseholder whose mental health isn’t affected in some way due to this horrendous situation.”

That chimes with the findings in the landmark report by the Cladding Action Group, which found that nine out of 10 of those surveyed said their mental health had

“deteriorated as a direct result of the situation”.

Some 94% said they were anxious and worried, 83% said they were angry—rightly, I might say—and 59% felt abandoned, which is a point I will come back to later. People also said they had had to take time off work. Health conditions had been made worse. Many were seeking or planning to seek medical help for stress. Some 67% said their mental health had got worse since they were last interviewed. Those numbers should serve as a chilling reminder of the impact, toll and misery of this crisis—a crisis that this Government have effectively caused.

It is hard to convey just what the fear of living in an unsafe building must feel like—how it must feel for people to go to sleep at night not knowing if they are safe in their bed. A constituent who wrote to me after the fire at Grenfell told me that they went past and saw the fire raging from their bus. The images of that night are seared on that constituent’s brain, as it is in the minds of so many other people, even if we just saw it on the TV.

Grenfell was, of course, not the only residential fire with serious consequences. The Cube fire in Bolton and Richmond House in south-west London are just two in recent years. Locally, there are many more examples. Luckily, Sperry House in Brentford was caught in time before the fire raged across the full building—before life was lost. Thanks to the fire services, it was caught in time.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Yesterday, Sky highlighted the case of Zoe, who lives in a cramped, one-bedroom flat with small children, but is unable to move out of the flat because of the toxicity of the building safety standards. That is having a huge effect on her mental health issues, including about schools in the future and just the anxiety my hon. Friend illustrates.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Planning)

My hon. Friend gives yet another illustration of the stress and mental health impact of this crisis. On the subject of people almost frightened to go to sleep at night, people with disabilities and their carers face even greater anxiety and worry over fire safety risks and whether they would be able to get out of their home to safety. Many are struggling to get adequate personal emergency evacuation plans sorted with their building managers.

Paragraph (b) relates to those facing staggeringly high bills. Every day, we see more and more reports of the skyrocketing costs facing leaseholders. One of my constituents, who is a shared owner in Brentford, is facing a bill of £15,000, and says:

“I fear it will be significantly higher...I don’t have this money and it will bankrupt me. I fear homelessness...I’m going to lose the home I worked so hard for.”

Leaseholders across the country are facing staggering and life-changing bills to fix cladding and fire safety defects, and more. Service charges are skyrocketing and, for many, insurance premiums are also shooting through the roof. Two of my constituents are facing an extra £2,000 on their annual insurance bill. Many people face bankruptcy. That is bad enough in itself, because of course it means a lifelong impact, whatever one’s financial future. However, for accountants, lawyers and others, their professional status is permanently destroyed if they are declared bankrupt.

Overall, there is the fear of homelessness for people who got on the housing ladder—they did the right thing, as we often say—but are now falling to the bottom of the snakes and ladders board.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

On the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, we had three sessions of evidence from many people across the country who have gone through covid, have lived since 2017 in unsafe buildings, as my hon. Friend has outlined, and are now in danger of bankruptcy and potentially losing their jobs through professional indemnity being withdrawn. It was heartbreaking to listen to the three sessions and see how life changing this was going to be and the consequences they will have in years to come, affecting their lives, their children’s lives and future generations of the family’s lives. The impact this is having on people’s mental health should not be understated. As I have said, it could not have come at a worse time, with covid, being locked in a house or a flat that was potentially dangerous during lockdown, or fearing for their own lives in a flat they believed was unsafe. They had the pressures of covid and of living in an unsafe building, so for me this new clause is hugely important, after having listened to the evidence sessions with my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

Order. To clarify, if people are going to intervene, can they make it short and sharp? If they want to make an intervention, that is the way to do it. If they want to speak on the substantive issue, they can do, but this is an intervention, rather than a more substantive contribution.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Planning)

I thank the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee for the work it did on this important issue. It has put these issues on the public record in a way that we do not have time for today, so our thanks go to the Committee.

Paragraph (c), on mortgage finance, is about the inability to move as one’s family or job situation changes. Normally, one would be able to sell and move somewhere nearer a new job or more suitable to one’s current family situation. Being unable to move causes further stress, even for those in flats with minimal risks. End Our Cladding Scandal estimates that last year there were around 1.2 million mortgage prisoners, and that figure will be growing. All this is largely due to the Government’s inept handling of the EWS1 survey process—an issue that is still not resolved, despite the grandiose claims from Ministers every three months when they want an easy headline.

Finally, for all those affected, there is a fear of what is to come. One of my constituents works in the NHS as a clinician, supporting and treating those with chronic mental health problems. This crisis is affecting my constituent’s ability to help their patients. That constituent told me that it is the fear of the unknown that is making it worse for them. They said: “I am in limbo.” Like so many leaseholders across the country, they are trapped in limbo, and limbo is nothing less than a mental health crisis, caused in part by shoddy builders, but exacerbated by the Government’s failure to tackle those who caused the problem head-on and to support the innocent victims.

The Government have had years to fix this crisis. The very least they could do is accept the new clause and evaluate the very real impact that this crisis has had on the mental health of so many.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South 10:45 am, 26th October 2021

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairship, Mr Dowd. I add my support for the new clause, for the reasons so well set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth.

I believe that there needs to be an assessment of the mental health impact for all leaseholders. My hon. Friend spoke about the impact of the financial bills that many leaseholders face. I would like to add some points from the leaseholders I have spoken to in my constituency about their fear of bankruptcy and the pressure that is placing on them, particularly those who would lose their professional title. I have spoken to a teacher and a social worker, who in their day jobs are dealing with young children who are already in temporary accommodation, or are supporting the needs of the Afghan refugees who have been placed in Luton.

Those constituents are working incredibly hard, in incredibly important jobs, but they are struggling because they are fearful that if they cannot meet the costs of the bills that they might have to face, they will lose their professional titles, not be able to pay those bills, be made homeless and then fall on to the responsibility of Luton Council, which we already know is incredibly pressured when it comes to providing housing. Our council house waiting lists are huge, with people living in temporary accommodation for many years. I did not need to watch the “Dispatches” programme on television last night—these emails come into my office inbox every day.

Finally, there are also wider mental health issues for those living together as partners and considering whether to start a family, when they are living in a home that is not safe and when they have concerns about when they will be able to remedy that, given the lack of action from the Government. The new clause on the need for a mental health impact report is therefore hugely important, and not only for the benefit of the leaseholders.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Yesterday, Sarah Corker highlighted the case of a leaseholder in a flat who was finally going through remediation after waiting for years. The flat was wrapped in plastic and there was very little wraparound mental health support. Does my hon. Friend agree that that should be within the scope of an assessment?

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. I agree that we need to look at everything in the round and bring it into scope to understand the longer-term impacts of unsafe cladding, and the lack or slow progress of remediation, particularly on leaseholders.

I really feel for those who cannot start a family because of those deep concerns, and the pressure they experience because, as time ticks on, it becomes more difficult. I want to add my support for leaseholders who are struggling in those situations by supporting this incredibly important new clause.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

I will speak briefly to add my support for the new clause. Colleagues have covered many issues, but my constituents in St Albans have told me that their mental health has deteriorated because they do not feel safe in their own homes. Some cannot sleep at night and others have had to move out, so that they are paying not only for the mortgage on their flat, but for rent. That creates financial worries, which in turn worsens their mental health. Some can afford to buy those properties only with the support of the bank of mum and dad, who are possibly retired and have put their savings or their pensions into buying the properties, so we have people living in fire traps who are concerned for the welfare of their ageing parents.

As colleagues have pointed out, there is a concern about those who want to start a family. Some do not feel able to start a family because they feel too stressed to go through that process in the home that they are in, the flat is not large enough or they cannot afford in vitro fertilisation, given the eye-watering bills for remediation.

The mental health impact goes way beyond the people who live in the properties. It starts with them, but it has ripple effects on their families and the people in the community who know that the properties are not safe. Nobody wants to live in a community where they might see something even half as bad as Grenfell. The crisis has enormous and wide-ranging mental health impacts and I fully support the new clause.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth for raising this important matter and to other Committee members for speaking honestly and eloquently on it.

The Government recognise—I certainly recognise—the difficult situation that many leaseholders have found or find themselves in, not least the financial implications and the emotional strain that it has placed on many people. We are aware of the research that has been conducted in the sector on the effects of building safety on leaseholders and their wider family and friends. The findings are sobering. They highlight the significant effect that building safety issues have on leaseholders and further demonstrate the importance of our work to improve building safety.

However, an important principle underpins access to mental health support: it must be based on clinical need. That must be right. It should be the right of everyone who needs that support to get it, without regard to any legislative or political pressure. If any individual, regardless of where they live, requires mental health support, they can contact their general practitioner to discuss those issues so that they may be referred to mental health services as appropriate. Information is available at GP surgeries and on the NHS website about how to access that. While I appreciate the points made by Committee members, we need to be careful, because the new clause cannot and, indeed, should not change the current approach to delivering these important services.

That is why, while I understand the motivation behind it, the Government cannot support the new clause, and why I will in due course ask the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth to withdraw it. It has implications not simply for building safety and my Department, but for how the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care provide such services.

Making homes safer will benefit leaseholders, and that is what we must be and are focused on. The Government are fully committed to making homes across our country safer, and that is why we are implementing the recommendations of the Judith Hackitt report. We also want people to be safe, and that is why we have since 2017 invested in more mental health nurses and services.

Throughout the work to reform building safety, the Government have regularly and extensively engaged with leaseholder groups. My noble friend Lord Greenhalgh, his predecessor and his predecessor’s predecessor have done that extensively since the Grenfell disaster. We recognise and understand the effects on a leaseholder who lives or who has lived in an unsafe high-rise building. That is why the Government have taken a range of steps to support leaseholders.

Given the tone of the debate on the new clause, I will not reamplify and recapitulate the support that the Government have given, and will continue to give, to leaseholders. There may be some disagreement about that support, but there is common understanding of our intent.

Through the Bill, we have a common intent to bring through new stronger protections for leaseholders and residents, providing them with the assurance that their buildings and the risks are being effectively managed, and that they are well informed and are given the chance to participate in the decisions that affect their building’s safety. Where the performance of those responsible for building safety falls short, there will be a clear route to have concerns heard and dealt with, backed by the new Building Safety Regulator. The regulator will have the powers necessary to put things right and tackle underperformance, giving residents and owners peace of mind.

We do not believe that a Government review of the effect on mental health is an appropriate or practicable approach. The practical effect of such a report might well be to recommend that mental health service provision be made to all leaseholders and possibly the wider community.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

How will the Minister and the Department approach helping the 90% of leaseholders surveyed who are affected by anxiety and mental health issues? What co-ordination is there between the Department and, for example, the national health service or other appropriate services?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The national health service has well-established means of providing services through both primary and secondary care to the people, based on need and at no cost to them at that point in time. That has been a well-established principle since 1948. GPs can signpost their patients to appropriate resources in the NHS to provide them with the services they need, as can services such as 111 or the Government website, which indicate how people with difficulties can use the NHS.

I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, but new clause 11, although understandable in its intentions, is not going to change the focus we need to have on remediating these problems and fixing an industry that has been building shoddy buildings for far too long. It precedes this Government and, indeed, Governments before our predecessor. I hope the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth will accept that we have tried to be collegiate in our approach in Committee, and I hope that we will continue so to be. However, I do not think it is right and proper to suggest that this crisis has been created, to use her term, by this Government. The crisis precedes the term of office of this Government, and probably the one before that and the one before that. Governments of all stripes have not grappled with this particular challenge. That is what we intend to do now.

Although I understand the motivations behind the new clause, it would seek, in effect, to prioritise one group above another in the receipt of mental health services. I do not think that is the principle upon which crucial mental health and other medical services should be delivered. While the hon. Lady will, I am sure, reamplify the sentiments that lie behind her new clause, I hope she will seek to withdraw it.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Planning) 11:00 am, 26th October 2021

I thank the Minister for his response to new clause 11. I am not sure whether he truly understands the impact of the building safety crisis on people, or he does but has no intention of dealing with it. I fear sometimes that it is the former. Only yesterday, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Ministers were advocating shared ownership—a subset of leaseholders. They are advocating that more people get into this mess, rather than addressing the impact on those who are already in it.

My colleagues spoke about the impact of homelessness, which causes mental health stress. On that point, people never expected to be a burden on the state for their housing situation. People did the right thing and got on the housing ladder—an aspiration of over 90% of people in this country. They got a loan and are paying for their home. Sometimes they are paying less in mortgage payments than they were in rent. That was before the charges started going up, of course. When those people become homeless, they add to the numbers of those who are already homeless. That situation will only apply to those whom the council have a duty to house, such as those with school-age children or who are vulnerable in some way, adding to the pressures on councils and the taxpayer. Of course, it will also add to the pockets of many private landlords.

Homelessness has a mental health impact, but it also has other impacts. There is an educational impact on children, who have to move schools because the only home their family is given is miles away. Many have to give up their job because they have been moved so far away that they can no longer travel to work. The Minister said, very helpfully, that anybody suffering from mental health problems can make contact with their GP. Is he not aware of the pressure on GPs at the moment? When did he or a member of his family last get an appointment within two weeks, which is often the wait time?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The hon. Lady seems to be conflating the timescale to the end of this difficult pandemic, the point at which the Bill will become law and when the report she asks for, if the new clause is accepted, will be made, and therefore the effect of the new clause on GPs. It is the case that GPs are under pressure. I am simply making clear the present process for people to access mental health services, which I think was the point that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale made to me.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Planning)

The Minister was obviously not aware of the crisis in the primary care workforce before the health crisis; certainly, at our GP surgery, we were waiting more than two weeks for an appointment before March last year. The Government have known for years that there are too few GPs, and of course the pressure is getting even worse through covid. However, let us move on.

If one sees a GP because of a mental health concern and the GP accepts the seriousness of that concern, they will then have to do a referral. Waiting times for a clinical assessment, and beyond that, treatment, are growing all the time, and already were before covid struck.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Will the hon. Lady explain how the making of a report will practically improve access to mental health services for the people who she quite properly says are affected by the building safety crisis?

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Planning)

First, it will acknowledge, in property law, that there is an impact on people of the lack of appropriate action by the Government. Secondly, when the Government actually accept the polluter pays principle, including builders and developers of existing homes, which is where the main concern is at the moment, they could recoup some of the costs from those builders and developers, which could contribute to additional mental health support. The importance of the new clause is to acknowledge that the building safety crisis is an awful lot more than a building safety crisis; it is a people crisis.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

I want to understand this from a practical point of view, so could the hon. Lady clarify—I apologise if she has covered this; I am listening intently to what she says—who would draft these reports? More broadly, given the obviously untold scale mental health impact this crisis has had, what assessment has she made of the impact on existing services, from which we would have to take professionals out of stream to draft these reports? I am keen to understand that point.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Planning)

If we were to push the new clause to a vote and it was accepted, the details of that are in there. This is not unique in legislation. It can be done and it can be enacted if the Government will is there. We are trying to establish whether the Government actually care about the people who are impacted by this crisis.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

When 90% of leaseholders surveyed by UK Cladding Action Group and End Our Cladding Scandal cite mental health and anxiety as a major concern, and when 25% have considered taking their own lives—suicidal thoughts—there is a big issue. It is nearly five years on from Grenfell. My hon. Friend, a good colleague, makes a powerful case for the new clause to be included in the landscape of the new building safety regime in this country.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Planning)

My hon. Friend confirms the power of this issue. Finally, I will address the Minister’s point about the Building Safety Regulator. To be honest, the point of the regulator is not generally, as drafted, to be concerned about people. The Minister said that the regulator will engage with leaseholders, but engaging with a leaseholder does not actually make them feel better.

My other concern is the growing number. We talked about the UK Cladding Action Group survey. It will have surveyed people who are probably aware of the situation they are in, but we know that people are still buying flats in buildings and more and more people are becoming aware of these issues. I would not buy a flat in a leasehold block, particularly one with a term of less than 20 years, because I have been enmeshed in this issue as a representative MP since before Grenfell. I know what it is like, but too many people are not aware, and are continuing to buy, get mortgages, set up homes and settle down in buildings that they then find are affected. I met the son of a friend of mine a couple of months ago, and he asked, “Could you explain to me this EWS1 problem? I am not moving, but some of my neighbours want to sell, and they did not know anything about it.” I said, “Well, how long have you got?”

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

A number of colleagues have asked what the practical effect of this clause might be. It seems to me that, as the hon. Lady has just said, there is a lack of understanding and information about the impact this situation has on those leaseholders who are caught up in it. We could imagine that, under subsection (3) of the new clause where it says,

“The review shall include recommendations”,

some of those recommendations could, for example, include mental health first aid training in the blocks of flats that are affected, particularly during times when those buildings will be wrapped in plastic. They could include providing information sheets about the impact on people’s lives that those who are affected could take to their GPs, their councillors or others, so a number of practical things could be recommended as a result of a review that could be conducted under this new clause.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Planning)

The hon. Lady makes a useful suggestion. I feel conflicted when somebody tells me excitedly that they are moving, or that they have just bought, because what do I say? Do I say how pleased I am for them, or do I ask, “Have you thought about this? Did you know about this? Was your solicitor employed by the developer?” and so on. These issues will lead to the mental health problems of the future among people who now are very happy and excited.

I will not press this new clause to a vote, but I am concerned about the rising tide of mental health problems, particularly among leaseholders, but generally among all residents in these blocks. I do wonder how many suicides there have to be before the Government take this on as yet another aspect of the emergency. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.